October 6, 2020 All day
Sopot Jazz Festival in Sopot Poland
Sopot Jazz Festival in Sopot Poland
Over the past year, it’s been quite tough for anyone not to hear the voices of women around the world rising up to proclaim “Enough.” Enough of the sexual harassment and inequality in the work place, whether it be perpetrated by Hollywood Big-wigs, national and local politicians, sports doctors, educators, or someone in your neighborhood.
Saxophonist and composer Roxy Coss participated in the Women’s March the week of Donald Trump’s inauguration. She carried a sign that read “The Future is Female”; that’s the title of her new album, a of 10 original compositions featuring her working ensemble of Alex Wintz (guitar), Miki Yamanaka (piano), Rick Rosato (bass), and Jimmy Macbride (drums) with bass clarinetist Lucas Pino on one track.
Song titles such as “#MeToo”, “Nasty Women Grab Back“, and “Females Are Strong as Hell“, might make you think that music has a strident quality. Many of the songs have great power but Ms. Coss wants to entertain and educate. While you’re grooving to the great rhythm section or enjoying Wintz’s delightful guitar solos or Ms. Yamanaka’s foundational piano, the leader wants you to think, wants you to react to the issues she’s presenting that you will begin to take action and demand better behavior throughout the country.
Sitting and listening to the music, one hears the influence of Charles Mingus (whose song titles made you sit up) and the power of Art Blakey and Max Roach. Those artists and others were also fighting for the cause of equality. Sometimes, their music rankled listeners but, more often than not, the sounds excited those who listened and, perhaps, even made them change attitudes for the better. Ms. Coss’s lovely ballad “Choices” is filled with emotion while “Mr. President” starts slowly with a somber melody over martial drums. Soon, the rhythm section kicks into high gear and Ms. Coss’s tenor sax pushes them forward. “Feminist AF” is a blues – no surprise there – that hints at both John Coltrane and Wayne without imitating either one. The afore-mentioned “Nasty Women…” features the leader on soprano and, while the rhythm section has some “bite”, the solos soar, especially Wintz’s rippling guitar lines.
Besides her work on the bandstand, Roxy Coss is the founder and director of WIJO (Women in Jazz Organization) – their Mission Statement is quite clear:
Give a listen to “The Future is Female” – it’s music that swings and rocks plus has a number of messages you should pay attention to (if you haven’t already).
The independent label Posi Tone Records has the mantra “…to provide the highest quality recordings of the most relevant musicians on today’s jazz scene.” Co-owners producer Marc Free and engineer Nick O’Toole have been doing just that since 1994. It seems 2018 will be no different. Free assembled his New Faces group from musician members of the Posi Tone stable of artists and produced a very satisfying new album aptly titled Straight Forward which will be released on January 12, 2018.
It’s a group of like-minded, young musicians who, based on this successful outing, have a long future together if they want it. The group includes Josh Lawrence’s trumpet, Roxy Coss’ saxophone, the gossamer touch of vibraphonist Behn Gillece and the young pianist Theo Hill with the rhythm section of Peter Brendler on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums.
The group offers a tight, well executed set of music; compositions that were culled partially from the Posi-Tone archives, but also includes two original compositions by trumpeter Lawrence and three by vibraphonist Gillece. There is one Herbie Hancock composition, “King Cobra,” that is particularly representative of the 50’s and 60’s Blue Note era, a recording model that Posi-Tone has clearly fashioned their own musical aspirations after.
The set starts out with a Jon Davis swinger titled “Happy Juice.” Right away you perceive a chorus of instruments-trumpet, piano, saxophone and vibes-that have acquired the ability to meld their individual voices into a complimentary, unified sound that delights the ears. Trumpeter Lawrence has a clear easy flow to his playing. Coss’s saxophone tone is mellow and lustrous.Pianist Hill is rock steady throughout, but it is Gillece’s tubular vibe sound that subtly dominates here, driving the tune forward as the rhythm section of Brendler and Sperrazza provide the rhythmic base.
What I like about this group is that they relish ensemble playing over lengthy individual solos. The haunting “Delilah Was A libra” is opened with a penetrating lead in by Gillece. Hill and Coss offer two short but poignant solos before Lawrence enters with a brief but potent trumpet statement. It’s the group speak that you come away admiring here.
On Brian Charette’s jaunty “West Village” the front line states the melody in unison, before Josh Lawrence’s muted trumpet solo raises the heat. A brief but imaginative solo by Coss leads to Gillece’s darting vibes play. The notes seem to take flight off his mallets like wood nymphs alit in a forest. This song was originally played by an organ trio, but here the group utilizes the additional instrumentation to great effect as Brendler and Sperrazza drive the beat.
The Herbie Hancock classic, “King Cobra,” is played by a tight front line stating the serpentine melody in unison, with a sound reminiscent of the old Blue Note magic. Pianist Hill’s repeated chord lines sets the time throughout. Saxophonist Coss’s tone is buttery soft, uncluttered and warm and Hill plays nicely off her changes of direction. Lawrence’s trumpet solo is well paced and understated. The music captures much of the electricity of the original recording.
The album continues with bright “I’m Here” which offers solos by Lawrence, Hill, Coss and Gillece respectively. The first of Gilcee’s three compositions on the album is up next with “Down the Pike,” a medium tempo swinger that offers some clever changes. Josh Lawrence’s’ driving blues, “Hush Puppy” keeps the proceedings moving with some Tyner-esque-like playing by Hill and a pulsing beat by Brendler. Lawrence’s muted trumpet, Coss’s mellow horn and Gillece’s vibes all add to the mix as Sperazza dazzles on traps.
Perhaps my favorite cut on the album is “Vortex,” a circular composition that features some of Coss’s most evocatively sensitive playing and spurs the vibraphonist/composer Gillece into some of his most exploratory adventures on the album. This one is bound to become a classic.
The music continues with trumpeter Lawrence offering a Latin inspired composition titled “Fredreico.” Sperrazza and Brendler hold down the Latin groove admirably.
“Follow Suit” is another Gillece composition that was clearly influenced by those sterling Blue Note years. The vibraphonist double-times his playing here as Brendler and Sperrazza maintain the torrid pace. Lawrence and Coss both offer fiery solos and Hill’s piano solo is frenetic.
The set closes with the easy, feel-good gospel-influenced Jared Gold composition “Preaching.”
Not sure if New Faces was intended as a one off to start the year, but with such an auspicious first album, perhaps New Faces is destined to become a regular Posi Tone featured group.
Saxophonist, bass clarinetist, educator, and composer Roxy Coss has a new album, her third as a leader and first for Posi-Tone Records. “Chasing the Unicorn” features six original pieces plus works by Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Lionel Loueke, Lennon & McCartney, and Willie Nelson. With her regular band, composed of Alex Wintz (guitar), Glenn Zaleski (piano), Rick Rosato (bass), and Jimmy Macbride (drums), the sounds explode out of the speakers with great urgency and high spirits.
The title track opens the album with the leader on soprano sax but also overdubbed tenor sax and bass clarinet. That “full” sound plus strong solos from Ms. Coss, Wintz and Zaleski as well as the intelligent arrangement is rewarding for the listener. The tenor sax leads the way on another original “You’re There“, the music pushed along by Macbride’s active drumming. Ms Coss’s solo rides the percussive wave. Wintz and Zaleski offer good counterpoint as the solo continues. The melody of “Unwavering Optimism” moves upward throughout yet notice the step down as the band moves into the solo section.
“Chasing The Unicorn” follows Ms. Coss’s “Restless Idealism” (Origin Records) release by 15 months yet feels like a giant step in her career. One can hear in the maturity of the compositions, in her development on both the soprano sax and bass clarinet, and her work as a bandleader. This is a group you’ll want to see and hear. Each member plays with strength and intelligence, adding to the songs in many different and often subtle ways. The faces of contemporary music are always changing, more young people are getting involved (even now, at a time when the business end of the “business” can be frustrating), and we are hearing news way to approach both tradition and change. Give a close listen to Roxy Coss and this ensemble.